Bollywood is sexist.
If you hadn’t noticed, you either haven’t seen a Bollywood movie or you are too ignorant to notice the blatant misogyny. Recently, however, there have been faint signs of progress.
1. More movies with female protagonists
Looking back about twenty years, the only hit movie with a female protagonist that I can remember is Damini. I’m sure there were others but overall too few to really change culture. In the past few years there have been a handful of movies with a female protagonist and without a ‘hero’. Namely, Queen, Dirty Picture, Kahani, 7 Khoon Maaf, Mardaani, Mary Kom, English Vinglish, and the recent Neerja. As it turns out, the public is not resistant to watching movies with a female lead and Bollywood is finally getting on board.
2. Multi dimensional heroines
Most Bollywood movies have a heroine with very little character development. She’s either a polite daughter, a submissive girlfriend, or a devoted mother. There wasn’t much else to the heroine’s role. Lately, the heroine is being graced with more character developement. In Tamasha for example, Deepika’s character Tara has more depth than Ranbir’s Ved. She’s adventurous, spontaneous, successful, and overall, confident in who she is. Even tough she’s not the protagonist, she has a presence.
3. Acceptance of heroine with masculine traits
Back in the day, the heroine with masculine traits was portrayed as a wild horse that needed to be broken. She’s rides horses, drives cars, and orders people around (remember Amrita Rao in Mard). Then she meets the Hero, he shows her the error of her ways, and she becomes ‘feminine’ (Recently, Deepika in Cocktail). In stark contrast, the heroine of today is portrayed as cooler because she can ride a motorcycle and deep-sea dive (Katrina Kaif in Jindagi Na Milegi Doubara). She competes in boxing matches while her husband stays home with the kids (Mary Kom). The line between what’s seen as acceptable behavior for the hero vs the heroine is (finally!) starting to blur.
4. Acceptance of hero with feminine traits
That’s right, the macho men of Bollywood seem to be changing as well. It’s safe to say the heroines have changed more than the heroes; nonetheless, they are changing. The progressive hero loves to cook (Hritik Roshan in Jindagi Na Milege Doubara), wants creative jobs (Ranbir Kapoor in Tamasha), and isn’t ashamed to cry. Blur line blur.
Although these recent changes are a ray of hope that equality is coming to Bollywood, it’s still just a drop in the ocean. Most movies are still a mixture of glorified manliness, marginalized women, and sexulized item numbners (think Dabaang, Kick, Tees Maar Khan and so many more). Sigh.
It’s been a demanding holiday season and all along I’ve had a strong urge to flee. Yesterday, I finally gave in and drove to Carmel. It’s a quaint little city overlooking the Pacific Ocean. I took a stack of books with me and a Kindle for backup, in case I run out of reading material. Walked down to the beach, parked my books in front of this view and began reading A Path Appears by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. Perhaps it was the tranquil setting or maybe it was finally having the time to sit down with a book, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the books that shaped the lens thru which I view the world. Books have molded my views on Religion, God, travel, food, the list goes on. For now, here’s a list of my favorite books about the fight for women’s empowerment:
5. Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg: this book doesn’t need an introduction, everyone has heard of Lean In. Lean In has gone from being the title of the book to an action phrase. Are you leaning in? Sandberg sheds light on several discrepancies: women are bossy while men are entrepreneurial, ambition in women is a negative characteristic while in men it’s desirable, no one asks men how they balance career with raising a family. She also talks about how women self-sabotage. We underestimate our abilities, aim to please everyone, and hesitate to share domestic responsibilities with our partners. What I took away from this book is that we are far from a women friendly corporate world and we don’t make it easy on ourselves either. There’s a long road ahead.
4. We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: this is a short read. It’s hilarious and provocative at the same time. It’s a light-hearted but compelling exploration of what it means to be a feminist today.
3. My Fight/Your Fight by Ronda Rousey: what I love about her is she does not apologize for being great at what she does. She’s great; she knows it and she shows it. This quote from the book sums up the book for me “People talk about how I’m so arrogant. They don’t realize how much work went into getting where I am. I worked so hard to be able to think highly of myself. When people say ‘Oh you’re so cocky. You’re so arrogant.’ I feel like they’re telling me that I think too highly of myself. My question for them is: ‘Who are you to tell me that I need to think less of myself?'”
2. Nice Girls Just Don’t Get it by Lois P. Frankel: this book is like having a conversation with your wise, feminist, no-nonsense grandma. Frankel makes you see why women strive to be nice, how it holds them back in life, and what to do about it. Her approach is simple but practical like how to turn down an expensive trip to celebrate a friend’s birthday when you can’t afford it (and not feel guilty about it). I read and re-read this book to remind myself not to fall into the old, nice girl habits.
1. Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn: this book made me a feminist. The book is a call to arms against the oppression of girls and women. What I love about the book is that they argue oppression isn’t only a moral problem, it’s an economic problem. Empowering half the world population, which is currently marginalized, is the key to economic progress. Who wouldn’t want moral progress with the added bonus of economic progress? Everyone should read this book.
This short film is laugh out loud funny. At the same time, it’s deeply disturbing how the main character is consistently devalued and disrespected but no one notices. The lack of respect really stands out because it is being directed at a man. If the main character were a female, the disrespect would be less noticeable since we accept so much of it as normal behavior.